There’s a persistent, pernicious sentiment from certain Christian conservatives that they’re being persecuted or oppressed for their religious beliefs.
It’s gotten louder over the years and it ranges from things that sound silly — “There’s a War on Christmas because I’m asked to say ‘Happy Holidays’ in December — to things that sound serious: “I’m being compelled by the government to do something that violates the tenets of Christianity.”
This latter claim has started cropping up a lot; it’s part of conservative opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Christian employers shouldn’t be mandated to provide birth control coverage) and it’s part of conservative opposition to same-sex marriage (Christian-owned businesses shouldn’t be compelled to participate).
These objections are often couched in the most hysterical sort of rhetoric, namely that atheists and liberals are persecuting Christians and that the very fabric of our republic is being pulled asunder if the freedom of religion can be so obviously undermined in this way.
But here’s the thing:
Freedom of religion isn’t being threatened and Christians aren’t being persecuted. What’s being threatened, actually, is a particular form of intolerance that dresses itself in religious rhetoric.
There are millions and millions of Christians in America who aren’t intolerant of gays and lesbians and who don’t oppose the right of women — like men — to make decisions pertaining to reproductive health for themselves. In this sense, Christianity isn’t being persecuted. What’s being threatened, instead, is a particular form of belief that centers around not simply the Christian Bible, but around intolerance of others to make life choices for themselves if those life choices don’t line up with a particular interpretation of the Bible.
Are we so intolerant of the intolerant in America? Not usually. And, in fact, we’re not being all that intolerant now. Christian conservatives can still oppose same-sex marriage or birth control or whatever else in their private lives. The government isn’t compelling them to attend these marriages or to use birth control. The government isn’t challenging their beliefs or compelling them to change their minds.
American Christians — and everyone else too — can believe anything they want to believe, but they cannot use their beliefs as a cudgel; belief — even sincerely held belief — isn’t an excuse to discriminate against others or to curtail their rights.
There is, incidentally, no shortage of articles online to which one might turn for a reminder about what actual persecution of Christians looks like; Christians do face persecution in many parts of the world … but America isn’t really one.